Indonesian Pollsters Accused of Putting Commerce Before Accuracy
Lenny Tristia Tambun
With commissioned surveys contributing a combined Rp 715.5 billion ($76 million) each year to the coffers of the research institutions that carry them it, pollsters have been accused of lowering the standards of their methodology in order to produce results that suit their clients’ interests.
Procedural shortcomings have been blamed for the apparent inaccuracy among survey companies in forecasting last Wednesday’s Jakarta gubernatorial election, in which incumbent Governor Fauzi Bowo finished second to rival candidate Joko Widodo despite pollsters predicting he would easily top the results.
Eliminated deputy governor candidate Didik Rachbini said that some research institutions treated the surveys as commercial transactions and manipulated data to satisfy their clients.
“All predictions by survey institutions were wrong and we need to question this,” Didik said on Tuesday.
He accused survey institutions of letting data be distorted during their research and lamented the absence of regulations or ethics codes for the sector. “What’s important is that we build public and media awareness about survey results. There’s nothing wrong with earning an income, but just don’t manipulate data,” he said.
The inaccurate results provided by the survey institutions marred their track records, he said. “This is punishment for survey institutions that put commerce ahead of scientific rigor. This is a strong warning for them to not forget about the scientific merit,” Didik said.
More than 10 survey companies have produced data ahead of recent regional or presidential elections. There are, however, frequently wide differences in the results issued by competing companies, fueling suspicions of hidden agendas.
Research by the Political Research Institute for Democracy (Pride) Indonesia on the survey industry found that clients paid between Rp 150 million and Rp 250 million per survey. Research showed that an average of between three and four candidates in each regional election commissioned at least three surveys per year, and there are about 530 district, cities and provinces across the country. Pride Indonesia concluded that survey institutions could reap Rp 715.5 billion a year from the business.
“This business opportunity, which can contribute huge income, prompted many parties to conduct surveys and set up survey institutions,” Pride Indonesia researcher Agus Herta Sumarto told a discussion about surveys and the gubernatorial election in Jakarta on Tuesday.
He questioned why surveys produced different results despite supposedly similar timing and methodology. “If the results aren’t the same, we should question them as the scientific aspects could have been ignored in the surveys,” he said.
He cited the survey results from the Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI), Cyrus Network, Puskaptis and Median. The four pollsters used the same method and similar timing but produced different results.
A survey by Puskaptis conducted on April 2 to 7 predicted Fauzi would reap 47 percent of votes while Joko would get 15 percent. A Cyrus Network survey on April 8 to 16 predicted Fauzi would gain 42 percent votes and Joko only 32 percent.
Official figures will be released later this week, but exit polls — conducted by the same agencies whose integrity is in question — say Joko won 43 percent of the vote and Fauzi 34 percent.